We’ve had a mild winter and all around us in the port (de l’Arsenal) here in Paris we are seeing signs of spring: daffodils popping their yellow heads, cherry blossom in brilliant pink, the catkins (lambs tails) have been waving beside us in the park for many weeks. It’s been a very mild winter and hopefully it’s now too late for a big cold snap.
During this pleasant spell Stewart has revisited one of his loves, cooking Sri Lankan curries and below he tells how this all came about and shares some of his recipes.
I was introduced to Sri Lankan cooking 40 years back in of all places Rockhampton, Queensland. “Rockie” calls itself Australia’s beef capital and along with all the wheat, cotton, sorghum, coal and pineapples, our beef cattle out on its hinterland it sure is.
I was sent up there to be the reporter for the ABC’s Rural Department in around 1974. I had to fill a 20 minute “Country Breakfast Session” broadcast live at 6.30am, five days a week. The CSIRO’s research tropical cattle station was always a fertile source of stories and boasted one of the first computer aided research projects; operated by a very gentle Englishman called Joe. Joe had served in the British Army in Sri Lanka – though he hardly looked or sounded like a soldier. Away from his office he wore a sarong and hosted sumptuous curry lunches in his caravan, where we all sat around the spread on cushions on the floor and wolfed down his creations with our right hands.
Largely thanks to the interest Joe had kindled, around 30 years ago I did a trip to Sri Lanka and learnt more of the culture and of the secrets of cooking, their style. One of the main differences between Sri Lankan cuisine and Indian or Pakistani, is that on the Tear Drop Isle each spice must be individually toasted before grinding and combined into a powder that smells so intoxicating it’s hard to believe it’s legal.
Our Australian friends and neighbours here in the port, Charles and Judy, are also big fans of Asian foods, their Thai dishes are superb, so I set to and over two days cooked up five dishes for a curry evening:
- Beef Curry
- Pumpkin Curry; spices and coconut
- White Fish Curry
- Poppadoms, chutney, naan bread
The first step was to top up our supplies of all those spices. That meant a short trip over to Paris’s Indian precinct around the Gare du Nord, where the smells of spices, the clothing, language and things for sale in the shop windows makes it hard to believe you are still in the middle of Paris France, rather than say Chennai or Colombo.
The key to my recipes is Charmaine’s Ceylonese curry powder mix, which I’d made following her instructions:
CEYLON CURRY POWDER
In Sri Lankan (Ceylonese) cooking, one of the main characteristics is that the spices are dark-roasted. This gives them an aroma completely different from Indian curries. So, if you want the quick method be sure to use curry powder that is labelled ‘Ceylon curry powder’. If you cannot buy it ready-made, here is the simple recipe I use.
165 g (1 cup) coriander seeds
60 g (½ cup) cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
5 cm cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons dried curry leaves
2 teaspoons chilli powder (optional)
2 tablespoons rice flour (optional)
In a dry frying pan over low heat, individually roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds, stirring constantly until each one becomes a fairly dark brown — do not let them burn. Place the roasted spices into an electric spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle. Break the cinnamon stick into small pieces and grind with the cloves, cardamom and curry leaves until you have a fine powder. Add the chilli powder and rice flour (if using). Store in an airtight jar for up to three months.
It was agreed on the night that the favourite dish was the fish. I was guided by Charmaine Solomon’s “The Complete Asian Cookbook” which I’d downloaded onto my laptop as a Kindle book for $11.00, much cheaper and lighter than the big heavy tome we have back in Sydney. Below is the recipe, though I added a couple of teaspoons of brown sugar (as we had no palm sugar) which really topped it off.
Fish white curry
500 g skinless, boneless firm white fish fillets
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt (left this out)
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 curry leaves
375 ml (1 ½ cups) thin coconut milk
125 ml (½ cup) thick coconut milk
Lemon juice, to taste
Wipe the fish with damp paper towel. Rub each fish fillet with turmeric and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Soak the fenugreek seeds in 60 ml (¼ cup) water for 30 minutes. Put the fenugreek seeds into a saucepan with the onion, garlic, curry leaves, thin coconut milk and the remaining salt. Simmer gently until the onion has softened, stirring well. Add the fish and simmer for a further 10 minutes, then add the thick coconut milk and cook for a few minutes longer. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice, to taste. Serve with rice and sambols.
Solomon, Charmaine (2011-11-01). The Complete Asian Cookbook (Kindle Locations 3835-3848). Hardie Grant Books. Kindle Edition.
We now have a supply of Stewart’s special Sri Lankan Curry Powder (prepared on board to the above recipe) and any day now he will be pulling out the pans and cooking up another treat (I’m thinking lamb .. mmmm). Although, with spring so present it might not be too long before all we want is salad!